Riding around London on the new cycle hire bike

Scrambling down the stairs, looking for a clean pair of jeans it dawned on me. I am going to be late to yet another meeting! TfL had contacted me last Friday to see if I wanted to test the new cycle hire scheme bike. I was happy to oblige but with a pending trip to Argentina in three days I was finding myself even less organised than usual. As I powered my way through London to get to Victoria Street and the TfL press offices I pondered how many people had tried out the bike. I must be in the first few. Also, what would the bike be like? Fast, slow, comfortable, cumbersome?

Upon arrival at the TfL offices I have a decision to make. Secure my bike with a cheap lock and keep my expensive one for the cycle hire bike or the other way round? Someone had commented to me that if you do the maths the scheme is costing £18,000 per bike. While I hold strong doubts about this back of an envelope calculation, I was still certain I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the prototype TfL cycle hire bike getting stolen!

Heading up on the high-speed escalator I reached into my bag to grab my notepad where I had jotted down the questions my Twitterers wanted me to ask. I realised I had left it at home. Soon the high-speed escalator was not looking so cool as I struggled to remember what I was meant to be asking.

No time. I’m shacking hands with Nancy from the TfL press office and having a look at the cycle hire bike for the first time. We take the bike down to the lobby and it’s time to test Nancy out with my questions. Luckily, she knows her stuff.

How will the distribution be done and will electric vans be used?

There will be vans managed by Serco redistributing the bikes to ensure even distribution. These are highly likely to be electric.

Considering the thefts in similar schemes, such as the ones in Paris Velib, what security features will there be?

Compared to the Paris scheme the bikes don’t come with an onboard lock. Hence people are encouraged to leave them at the cycle hire docks. Also, the cycle hire dock is easier to use. Unlike the Parisian one, it is a one step process so people won’t forget to do step two, which is securing the bike. The bikes are also much tougher to remove from the cycle hire dock without paying thanks to the design of the dock. If you don’t return the bike then a £300 charge is made on your card.

Saddle height adjusted, good to go

Once my questions have been answered there is nothing left to do but try out the bike. I adjust the saddle to my height using the useful quick release beneath the seat.

Lifting the bike off the curve and onto the pavement I suddenly notice how heavy it is. You certainly wouldn’t want to carry this beast up more than a couple of steps. I glance behind and set off. I’m instantly feeling more European. I’m on a cycle hire bike that has a chain cage so you don’t need to roll up your jeans, a basket for your bag and a step over frame eliminating the need for that awkward leg over manoeuvre. This is cycling in a way someone from Amsterdam would appreciate.

I head to Westminster bridge. While everyone else is taking pictures of each other next to Big Ben with their hands in the V-shape, I park up the bike, kick the stand down and start to take pictures of it. My doing so attracts a lot of attention and interested glances. This isn’t at all surprising. The bike really stands out. Its big blue frame and silver plastic handlebar covers are very noticeable. I instantly make the decision: I love the bold design!

The cycle hire bike parked up

Adjusting the seat on the cycle hire bike

Front basket with straps you can easily adjust

Handlebars on the TfL cycle hire bike

Hud powered lights at the back that stay on up to 2 minutes when stationary

Time to race..

Racing a cycle hire bikePictures out the way I decide there is only one mature and adult way to put this bike through its paces. A race! So I head over to The Mall next to St James Park and spot a reasonably fast moving bike messenger up ahead. I switch to the third gear and pedal as fast as I can. I overtake. I’m sure the messenger was very bemused to see a big chunky cycle hire bike overtake him. I’m also sure, that if he realised I was racing him, he would of beaten me by a mile!

However, the experiment did prove that you can reach speeds of 20 – 22 mph on a cycle hire bike. Though your feet will be spinning like you are in a rollapaluza race. Overall the 3 gear choices are fairly good and provide a good enough range. However, cycling even slightly uphill is a noticeable challenge due to the weight of the bike. Luckily in Zone 1 your chances of coming up against a major hill are slim.

Heading out into the heavy traffic

bike-vs-hgv With my confidence in the bike at an all time high I head out into the heavy traffic. Here I test out its manoeuvrability by heading between a bus and a HGV. Probably the least safe place in the world to be and an experiment I wouldn’t repeat. However, the bike steers well and the handlebars are not too wide so there is no problem with squeezing past tight gaps.

The bike is generally very comfortable and easy to ride after the first few minutes of getting used to it. You are in the upright position which gives you a clear view of the traffic. The chunky wheels mean it can handle potholes and a tiny bit of off-road action.

As my two hour introduction to the cycle hire bike drew to a close, almost as fast as it started, I travelled back to the TfL office. On the way back a motorbike pulled up next to me and commented on how funky the bike looked. I think it will be really interesting to be cycling around when the bikes first hit the streets in a mass number as they will be very noticeable.

Saying goodbye to the London cycle hire bike


The receptionist back at the TfL office was amazed at how chunky the bike is. Needless to say she was very surprised to hear it can reach speeds higher than 20mph.

Talking to Nancy again we agreed there is a great buzz surrounding the launch of the cycle hire scheme. She told me that having the first 30 minutes free encourages people to use the bike for short hops rather than borrowing it for the whole day. This should mean more bikes are available for everyone to use.

Hoping back on my own bike felt good. I’m not sure if this was because I knew I would no longer be overhearing whispers of “that’s that new cycle hire bike” or because I could zip around at a higher speed again. When the cycle hire scheme launches on the 30th of July I highly recommend you give it a go.

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34 Responses to Riding around London on the new cycle hire bike

  1. Filippo Negroni 27/04/2010 at 11:12 am #

    Great post! 🙂

    I have two questions though:

    – What’s stopping the saddle/post combination to be stolen by drunk pranksters?

    – How do the lights perform? Are they visible enough?

  2. Andreas 27/04/2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Thank you! The lights did seem
    bright enough. The video shows them in daylight. The
    seat post cannot be lifted to be removed. It is restricted. The same with the quick release, it cant be opened.

  3. Peter Newell 27/04/2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Hi Andrius,

    Nice summary – I enjoyed reading that.

    I’m glad to see the bike designers have seen sense with covering and creating hard to reach nuts to make the bike as safe / theft proof as possible. The intergrated lights are good too, I’m suprised we don’t already see more hybrid/commuter bikes with that feature already…

    I assume as part of the redistribution activity they will give the bikes a ‘once over’ and pump up tyres etc.

    All in all though, next time i’m in London I will definately use one!

    • Filippo Negroni 27/04/2010 at 1:31 pm #

      Same here! Will make traveling in London more interesting for ‘local’ visitors!

    • Andreas 27/04/2010 at 6:05 pm #

      No worries pal and glad to hear you follow the blog! They have really gone to town with making the bikes as vandal and theft proof as possible. I’m sure where there is a will there is a way but fingers crossed this will be minimal. Agreed that a lot of the features on the bike could start porting its way over to hybrid/commuter bikes. It definitely makes it a lot more usable.

      Serco are in charge of the redistribution and yes they will be doing all the safety checks and inspecting bikes regularly. The scheme sure is costing enough so this will translate into minimal disruption hopefully.

  4. Tom 27/04/2010 at 2:43 pm #

    So what happens if you get a puncture? Can you just walk to the nearest cycle hire depot and swap it for a new one?

    • Andreas 27/04/2010 at 5:59 pm #

      Exactly! This will also renew your half hour allowance I assume.

  5. MarkA 27/04/2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Well done Andreas, a great review!

    I’m so excited to see this scheme launch in London. Most of the criticism I have seen about it so far have been from people who don’t really seem to understand the nature of the project (ie you don’t hire a bike for the whole day but rather use different bikes for your different journeys – as in pick up bike, ride to shop, park bike in dock, visit shop, pick up different bike to ride to park, park bike in dock, have picnic in park, pick up a different bike for ride home) Some people I’ve seen have been saying things like “It will cost £45 to hire for the day, what’s the point?” but that’s the whole point, you just make short journeys and anything under 30 mins is free so essentially you can do all your riding around for virtually nothing. A bit like taking different buses around town, rather than using your car all day.

    One of the things I love about the Paris scheme which I hope takes off here is the idea that if something goes wrong with your bike when you are using it (like a puncture) you turn the saddle round to face backwards when you return it to the dock. That will stop other people from hiring that bike and means it is ‘flagged’ for getting fixed.

    All in all, I think this scheme is going to be great!

    • Andreas 27/04/2010 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi Mark, thanks very much. A good idea on the turning the saddle around. A good way to flag a bike for repair. Hopefully punctures will be a rarity.

      Totally agreed on your point about the £45 for the day. Nobody will be doing that. If you want to do that you can go to a shop and rent a bike for a couple of days. The beauty is the frequent availability of docks so you can keep leaving your bike.

    • Naoise 29/05/2010 at 5:19 pm #

      good idea re: turning the saddle around, I have passed this onto dublinbikes ie
      The scheme has been going strong there for the past year with great success, a real community of users has built up. Even instructed a 65 yr old legal gent in a suite how to use to get his bike out and setup. Early users were young but now has spread to business types in their suits, and ‘ladies’ – a real site !!
      Hope the mistake of the Parisian scheme is not made and not all bikes are released at once, only your designated bike. Many bikes disappeared as a consequence in Paris.

      Also you will find hot spots, where bike turnaround is less than 5 mins and where rarely do you find an available bike, or at the other end an empty slot. Just make sure you check the bike stand map to know where the nearest alternative is. Hope they do not make them too far apart.
      Also in Dublin it is free for the 1st 30 mins of use.
      Lastly, they reduced the permitted car speeds in the city center to 25-30 mph,ensured that bike lanes were clearly marked and wide enough. In London the continuing carnage of cyclist (unacceptable in the rest of Europe) is the only danger I can see to the scheme.

      Well done to all involved, a good communal effort !!

      • Andreas 31/05/2010 at 6:11 pm #

        I know they have changed a lot compared to the Paris scheme. In Lyon with their cycle hire you pick the bike you want to release.
        The stands are going to be around 300 metres apart. So very close to each other.
        Reducing the permitted car speeds has happened in some boroughs in London but wider adoption would be a good idea.

  6. James 28/04/2010 at 1:09 pm #

    I rode one of these around a very small test track at last years bike show. Really looking forward to it. Love the idea of the buillt in lights. Only worry is how long are the elastic straps on the front basket going to last?

  7. BJ 28/04/2010 at 1:24 pm #

    The design is excellent. And well done on managing to hold the camera while in the bus lane! Nerves of steel.

    • Andreas 28/04/2010 at 2:05 pm #

      lol thank you! I should have brought someone with me for some better filming!

  8. jamesup 28/04/2010 at 8:19 pm #

    You were right to doubt me – I’ve double checked, it’s £140,000,000 to provide 6,000 bikes (over six years – http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/tv_and_radio/newsid_8293000/8293273.stm) – so its actually around £23,000 per bike.

    Nice report, but honestly, this scheme is a luxury that we can’t afford and shouldn’t be the priority – Imagen the cycle lane network £140 million could buy? Imagen the number of bikes you could give to schools…

    • Andreas 29/04/2010 at 12:50 am #

      Hi James, thanks for adding your points. I couldn’t find the Twitter message that mentioned the cost to me. I think this cost is for the setup and for the running cost over a certain period. Agreed that some kind of cost benefit analysis should take place to ensure that cycling projects are getting the return they should be getting.

    • George 30/04/2010 at 12:47 pm #

      Even if the original scheme costs £23,000 per bike to set up, that’ll come down if it’s extended to other locations and cities. I think it’s a great way of getting more people on London on bikes, and a good investment; although extra bike lanes would also be nice!

  9. Peter 28/04/2010 at 10:09 pm #

    there’s some of the docking stations being put in near me at the top of a steep hill (Camden Hill Road) it’s also a ratrun used by local traffic so I don’t think that one’s a good choice

  10. Heather 30/04/2010 at 12:19 pm #

    @ jamesup – you make a compelling argument re: costs, but I think the idea is still a good one and the more cyclists we have on the road the better it is for London. It’s a hefty investment, sure, but the benefits (if the scheme is successful), will be worth the millions spent. I just hope they don’t all get mauled by those a*seholes who break bicycles left locked up on the streets at night. (Who does that? What a senseless crime that is, huh?)

    I rode a Velin when I was in Paris, a few weeks ago and they’re really easy to ride. I can’t wait to have a go on the London ones; they look great.

  11. Jodie 05/05/2010 at 11:26 am #

    Hi there

    Is anyone considering using the bike hire this summer? Or are you considering cycling in london after a long absense and you are a bit nervous? I’d welcome your positive cycling in London stories. Feel free to get in touch: drumtfl@googlemail.com


  12. Simon 28/05/2010 at 2:24 pm #

    For me this totally misses the point! The cost will be the death of this scheme, see my previous post below…. Oh and the math, So how much more expensive is London than Paris? Answers on a postcode please…. Need a clue? (Paris bike hire per day = 1EURO, London bike hire per day £50 OR over a week Paris bike hire = 5EURO, London for one week…..wait for it…. wait fooooor it……….£350) WOW!!!! You want the math on the £350? £50 per day is max hire so I presume at this point the charge you the £300 deposit you paid… I wonder what happens if you give it back 24hours and 1 second later?

    I was really looking forward to this London scheme until I read more into it…Having recently been to Paris where they have the scheme alreadty (called the Velib), it was really a highlight of our trip. The bike parks where everywhere, the bikes where 97% all in good nick and comfortable to ride, had working lights and bells. They were heavily used by locals to get to and from work and tourists alike. To join the scheme was very easy, just needed a credit card to register at a meter that was next to bikes, you then got a code you punched in every time you wanted to remove a bike. They were very secure and code was easy to use..

    So why do I have a problem with London scheme? Well, just as in Paris the first 30 mins is free, so work runs and shop runs where well suited. BUT, in Paris if you went over the 30 mins you get charged 1 Euro, yes thats right one whole Euro! Or if you prefer a weeks hire its 5 Euro..Nothing wrong with that, its only a £1 or so!

    So…. finally down to business. What is London charging…Wait for it……

    Up to 30 minutes Free
    Up to 1 hour £1
    Up to 1 hour and 30 minutes £4
    Up to 2 hours £6
    Up to 2 hours and 30 minutes £10
    Up to 3 hours £15
    Up to 6 hours £35
    Up to 24 hours (maximum usage fee) £50

    THATS MY PROBLEM!!! A short afternoons bike hire will set you back £6….!!!!! Thats not including the initial key money which is another £3 i think….. London you make me so SAD! And to sell it to Barclays for sponsorship too, given what the banks have done to the great British public of late, guess what there doing again here!!!

  13. Ben 02/06/2010 at 1:55 pm #

    The cycle hire app looks very cool. Using the same data, for anyone without an iphone:


    The markers shwo the capacity of each station, and clicking on them should let you bring up a google streetview of the docking station location.

  14. james 02/06/2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Loved the article.

    Next time I am in London, I will be hiring one of these great looking bikes!

    Does anyone know where I could buy one similar for my own use? Any ideas?


  15. Naoise 06/07/2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Any idea where you start the sign-up application ?
    This advance notice seems to be very low profile.

  16. rosstheboss 16/07/2010 at 12:46 am #

    There’s a certain irony in the fact that one of the few places on the SouthBank/Thames Path where cycling is prohibited is right outside the Mayor’s office next to Tower Bridge. This must be very embarrassing for Boris!!

  17. Jon 30/07/2010 at 3:10 pm #

    I see they’ve added some exhaust-pipe style rear reflectors to the final version of the bike. Good thing too because the ones up underneath the saddles won’t bee seen if you have a jacket on or a bag hanging behind you. Will remind me of the Batcar exhaust. The front lights were altered from the version you tried Andreas too.

  18. ben 31/07/2010 at 1:00 am #

    Same site as before:


    now shows realtime capacity at docking stations

    • Andreas 05/08/2010 at 2:37 pm #

      Good site Ben. Thanks for sharing

  19. Naoise 05/08/2010 at 1:36 pm #

    What a fiasco – I mean the web site.

    Step 1 – Register:-
    First tried last week to do the application via the web, but nogo, got the following error message:

    “Sorry, the Barclays Cycle Hire website is currently unavailable. Please try again later or call our contact centre on 0845 026 3630 referencing Support ID 15422687983201712894.”
    and again
    ” 15 42 26 87 98 32 01 71 28 94 – CC Ref num::

    Finally got thro’ to the call, finally spoke to the supervisor – no the Support ID was not used by them. Finally got the key.

    Step 2 – Trying to Activate The Key:-
    Tried to logon to activate, but cannot logon, tried to get a new password sent, but the site has a problem with the email address.
    Rang the call center but —
    “we are overwhelmed with calls” (no joke, what a surprise!).
    “Can we take your number, and all details” (yet again !) “and will get someone to call you back” (over tree days and still waiting).

    Mind the Gap:-
    The website has it that 10,000 registered, but only 2,000 have activated their key !!

    Boris the ******:-
    After his success with screwing up London Tubes at weekend, he has now turned his ‘organisational’ skill to the Ken’s bike scheme.
    Can’t wait to see what happens to the Olympics !
    I even voted lib-dem at the last election.
    Lesson FINALLY Learnt !!

    • Andreas 05/08/2010 at 2:37 pm #

      Hope you don’t mind but I filtered out your colourful language. Sounds like you’ve had a horrendous first experience with the cycle hire scheme. Most people have reported helpful support staff but I guess they are only helpful if you can finally get through! Hang in there I guess is the only advice and hope things start to smooth over.

  20. sean 13/08/2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Another example of the government competing with small business. Bike hire businesses now are out of business. The government are too hard to compete against..They now are also cashing in on hire cars for london city, competing with hire car companies using the congestion charge inclusive as an incentive – how can you compete with that. Next they will be opening coffee shops!!

  21. Jake Yeadon 31/10/2010 at 7:55 pm #

    huge journal you lock up

  22. Naoise 01/11/2010 at 11:25 am #

    I wonder how long will it take TfL or London Underground, Trains etc to update maps at station exists with location of nearest bicycle docking station ?
    Have asked staff at different stations, but as you expect, ‘donno not my job’ whadda u mean ??

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